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OP-ED | Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’

by | Jul 11, 2014 8:00am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Opinion, Taxes, Transparency

Chutzpah: unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity

The traditional definition of chutzpah is someone who kills his mother and father and then claims being an orphan as a mitigating circumstance.

I’ve been reminded of this word constantly as the FUSE/Jumoke charter scandal unfolded over the last two weeks.

L’Affaire Sharpe has been quite astonishing, because as a mere mortal, not a Crony of Dan Malloy or part of of the Charter Chicanery Circus, I underwent more due diligence than Sharpe to become a creative writing instructor for an after-school program at one of the local elementary schools for the non-hefty fee of a few hundred bucks.

To teach this Afters program, run by the Cos Cob Elementary School PTA, I had to undergo a criminal background check.

Last year, when I was hired as an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and we know how well adjuncts are paid), before my appointment was confirmed I underwent another criminal background check, and also had to have my transcript sent from the institution where I’d received my Masters Degree. Funnily enough, it was New York University, the educational establishment where Michael Sharpe received his fictional doctorate.

Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford,  the co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, told the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas: “This is a pretty unique situation. Michael Sharpe had been tremendously successful at Jumoke Academy since about the year 2000 . . . So I think it’s fair to say it came as a big surprise to many of us that someone who had achieved so much would be claiming to have degrees that he lacks and have a past.”

Unique situation? One has to ask oneself if Rep. Fleischmann has been living under a rock. Maybe he missed the comprehensive report by the Detroit Free Press on charter improprieties in Michigan. Or the scandals in Florida. . Or New Jersey. Or California. Or Louisiana. The list goes on.

As a taxpayer, a literacy advocate, and a parent, I find it frightening that someone this out of touch with the reality of what’s happening on the national education scene is the co-chair of the state’s legislative education committee.

But the surefire winner of the Connecticut Chutzpah Crown has got to be Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCan, who told Pazniokas:

“I think it is an important moment that signals a need to revisit and update Connecticut’s charter law so that it keeps pace with best practices nationally, including clarity around areas of accountability and transparency — but, I think, also flexibility and funding,” she said.

Translation: “Oops, one of our guys was caught lying, so we should make a show of ‘best practices’” Don’t you just love the reformy lingo for what the rest of us call “good government?” Orwell would have a field day with Ms. Alexander. “But in the meantime, give us more money and less regulation.”

Yes folks, I think Ms. Alexander just gave us a new definition of chutzpah.

A close runner up has got to be the acting co-CEO of FUSE, Heidi Hamilton, who, in response to requests for information from the Hartford Courant, responded: “It is my understanding that FUSE is a private non-profit company and we are not subject to the Freedom Of Information Act.”

Although both Rep. Fleischmann and his education co-chair, Sen Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, are now feigning outrage over the charter organization’s lack of respect for the state that feeds them, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what has been happening right next door in the state of New York.

You see charter schools want to have it both ways. They claim to be “public” when it comes to taking taxpayer dollars, but “private” when it comes to accountability. Witness how the Empress of the New York Charter Movement, Eva Moskowitz, went to court to deny N.Y. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli the right to audit charter schools. Her court action was supported by the North East Charter School Network, which was brought to Connecticut by none other than . . . you guessed it, “Doctor” Michael Sharpe, cheered on loudly by . . . yes, you guessed it again, the Chutzpah Queen herself, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCan.

It’s all so very, very cozy, isn’t it?

Back in January, when I wrote about the fiscal irresponsibility of funding short-term technology for SBAC testing with construction bonds, I noted: “The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260-per-pupil grant, whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.”

I guess no one in Hartford was watching the cookie jar — too much cronyism and not enough good government.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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(29) Archived Comments

posted by: cnj-david | July 11, 2014  8:45am

I’m sorry, you wanted openness, transparency, accountability, maybe even GAAP - those things that Malloy promised?

Coming from Maryland, (the state that gave you Spiro Agnew), a state renowned for its crooked government; I thought I’d seen it all.  I was wrong.  This is the most deceitful, self-serving, hypocritical, opportunistic, power-mongering bunch of scoundrels I’ve ever seen.

posted by: Noteworthy | July 11, 2014  10:18am

Excellent and Bravo! Nobody was watching the cookie jar because they were all sitting around it like a campfire, with a cookie in each hand.

posted by: PWS2003 | July 11, 2014  10:46am

First Terry’s and now Sarah’s excellent posts. CTNEWSJUNKIE is killing it! Thank you for this site.

posted by: ocoandasoc | July 11, 2014  12:27pm

See, the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with charter schools, per se. And nothing wrong with being a charter school advocate. But with the public education system in this country failing so many of our children so badly, parents are thirsty for alternatives and there are plenty of educational hucksters and opportunistic politicians and civil servants who can smell the blood in the water and have no compunctions about taking advantage of the situation. Education oversight in Connecticut is a joke; a classic case of the blind leading the blind. But as apologists for the current dysfunctional public education system point with indignation to the abuses in SOME charter schools they should take a look in the mirror to remind them of who is to blame for the underlying problem that spawned them.

posted by: Pro-Public Education | July 12, 2014  1:28am

ABC, see your way out of Bridgeport. I am a Bridgeport Public School graduate and I have five siblings that are too. I also have a child that graduated from the BPS. Sarah you can speak for me anytime and I know plenty of Bridgeport residents and parents that agree with your position on charter schools too. This article is amazing and I sent to 100 of my contacts. Excellent work, please continue to expose these conartists.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 12, 2014  4:22am

I don’t normally bother responding to ABC’s non-sequiturs, but this is such a doozy, I feel compelled.
1. Please provide evidence from any of my published writings that I “love” “urban dropout factories” “so much.”

And…*crickets*.....because there’s no factual basis for that assertion. Ergo, no factual basis for hypocrisy. My writings have consistently been about raising the standards for ALL schools.

2. So let me get this straight - you are comfortable with “school choice” resulting in a corrupt organization like FUSE with zero accountability to the state getting between 5-9X the amount of state $$ per pupil that the surrounding district schools get with zero accountability and transparency? 

Are you sure you don’t work for ConnCan?

posted by: Historian | July 12, 2014  8:02am

told the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas: “This is a pretty unique situation. Michael Sharpe had been tremendously successful at Jumoke Academy since about the year 2000 “
  That is the only relevant statement in the article - The guy did the job - without all the graduate BS educrates depend upon to browbeat critics and keep their hundred thousand dollar salaries. Please note the hatred for these charter schools but not a whisper of distain for private schools - is it because they do not siphon cash from the taxpayers your unions seek to monopolize?

posted by: Kerri | July 12, 2014  10:38am


Well done, Sarah! Thanks for having the brains and guts to consistently cover these issues.

posted by: RJEastHartford | July 12, 2014  1:07pm

Somewhat to your point, that is why Jonathan Pelto is seeking his petition signatures at Starbucks, see HTML<http://courantblogs.com/capitol-watch/pelto-works-the-starbucks-circuit/#more-33515> Hartford Courant
Suburb Parents want their schools left alone. The central city and inner ring suburbs need some help, Governor Malloy is trying to respond, somewhat clumsily, but he is responding. However, because of money, not so much the children, there are too many agendas.
What is Mr. Pelto’s agenda? There is always enough hypocrisy to go around

posted by: Parent and educator | July 12, 2014  11:38pm

Check out the way money talks in political campaigns—ConnCAN, charter school lobbyists, are playing both sides of the aisle, while the Booker T. Washington charter school in New Haven—a product of ConnCAN advocacy and FUSE patronage, is a perfect example of the way education has become a political football (with children being victimized)
> http://blog.ctnews.com/politics/2014/07/09/game-on-christie-to-raise-cash-for-malloys-ouster/
See here: several members of ConnCAN wrote letters of support for the Booker T. Washington charter school: Derrick Diggs of Diggs construction—they’re on ConnCAN’s board http://www.conncan.org/about-us/board! Jennifer Alexander wrote a letter—she’s their CEO; a letter from Jeff Klaus—mentioned as a board member here:  http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/696/f6/f/1671/ConnCAN_Advisory_Council_Members.pdf
> and of course, the Reverend Eldren Morrison himself is a member of the board.
That means that a sizable percentage of letters of support for the BTW charter school were written by ConnCAN staff or board members; plus 2 *identical* letters from Toni Harp and John DeStefano—what are the chances they’d write exactly the same thing?  I guess their “lobbyist” wrote the letters for them—maybe it’s called “template for a letter from a Mayor or State Rep.”

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 13, 2014  12:19pm

@RJEastHartford - Pelto has also been seeking signatures at farmer’s markets around the states. Gov Malloy is out making appearances at farmer’s markets this weekend. So your point is?.....what, exactly?

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 13, 2014  2:48pm


You totally rocked it, Sarah. You could give all the other columnists in CT lessons on how to put real journalism into their writing like you do.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 13, 2014  2:50pm


Yo, ABC, the governmental moneybags never put enough funding into those urban schools because the parents lack political power, then folks like you get to point to the results as an argument for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Chutzpah and hypocrisy all in one package tied up with a bow of logical fallacies and tail-eating snakes.

posted by: DanofiveO | July 13, 2014  6:16pm

Hi Sarah,
Damn strait Accountability!
Great piece but let’s peel back the onion a bit more. Who is responsible? Which party?
Let’s break it down. Malloy is funding a slave ship to the tune of 8 million at $400,000 per year with zero accountability, Uconn pays Hillary Clinton $251,000 to speak and raises tuition 6.5%, does anyone else find resurrecting a slave ship wrong? Does it help race relations? Does it perpetuate race baiting? Would it have been money better spent on grants for kids schooling? How much longer will we let democratic policies ruin our state and country?  Many former democrats like myself are waking up to the fact that it’s almost revolution time. Accountability is not in the Democratic Party dictionary unless someone notices even then it’s swept under the rug. The waste and giveaways by democrats is in epic proportions to all the people they claim to despise on our behalf. The taxes are regressive, and at the expense of who? Our kids, our veterans, the jobless, small business it’s the complete antithesis of what they claim to us they stand for,( it’s suppose to be the workers right? )
Now the Feds are dumping illegal immigrants into small towns across the country and expecting these cash strapped communities to provide housing food legal services and education. We are dying on the vine but required to pay for it.
Close the border, all those coming in illegally deport under same terms as we do for Mexicans and Canadians. They came from Mexico scoop them up in school bus and dump them across the border and let Mexico deal with it. Use our commandos or drones to destroy the train tracks in multiple locations to disrupt the chain. Require employers to verify employees or face a felony charge. The same with landlords, bank accounts and drivers licenses. Use local state and federal agents to work together round up and deport All illegals. People not born to citizens are NOT citizens. Cut off aid to home countries violating our borders and use their funds for border security until they stem the flow. Increase aid to foreign consulates for processing of legitimate refugees and only support legal immigration. If all the so called low wage workers leave employers it levels the field for legitimate businesses and those making money on illegals would have to pay better to attract our 50 million unemployed to go to work, kinda solves the minimum wage issue huh? Think about the wonderful effect it would have on our most vulnerable actually using our limited resources directed at our most needy and jobless. Health care cost would go down and taxes would go down. The effects of taking hundreds of uneducated non English speaking people into our local schools squanders our scant resources and ruins our kids education and futures as they are held back. I feel like we should embrace imperialism over becoming the ultimate nanny state. We were a once a great proud country with values now we are a country of nurse maids how pathetic!

posted by: RJEastHartford | July 13, 2014  9:14pm

@ Sara Darer Littman
There is no Starbucks in East Hartford, and the store in Hartford’s central city is open only during the week during office hours. Perhaps Mr. Pelto’s primary constituency are suburban parents who do not want “their” schools encroached upon by the state. Seems to me, the urban areas and surrounding areas like it
are where the informing and yes, selling of the legitimate concerns and issues you and others have reported on need to happen. Something you cannot do from Starbucks in Colchester or a blog. He (Mr.Pelto) should work the neighborhoods with this and get charter school parents on board. One wonders how a circumstance like FUSE can develop over time, yes RogueReporterCT is correct, lack of political power, but here they/we might say you have to respect the hustle.
We know, for the most part, where Governor Malloy stands and as a result he does enjoy more support here than given credit for. I think Mr. Pelto is using this issue much like proponents of charter schools, as a political football nut to kick the Governor in the…..(personal politics). Mr Foley’s planned school grading system will ramp up the privatization ...that is what he does, investors come on in!

posted by: Douginct | July 14, 2014  10:40am

As a society, we are separating the have’s and the have nots, and as a result making a real mess of things.  The only way to be inclusive, and provide top notch education for the well-off who (and I don’t blame them) are willing to pay a private school for their kids to have a fine education is to 100% invest in our public schools, and stop with this Charter school boondoggle.  If you want to act like a private school, then be a private school.  My tax dollars should not be diverted to semi-private entities.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 14, 2014  3:14pm

ABC - I grew up in Stamford and graduated from Cloonan Junior High and Westhill HS. I challenge you to look at the demographics of those schools before you start stereotyping me.

” you also work really hard to prevent good people who happen to have very little economic and social equity from accessing high quality education so that they can lift their children out of poverty and up on the ladder of success.”

Once again, I challenge you to provide evidence for these assertions. I provide evidence for everything I write in my columns. Please do the same.

“I plead with you to stop standing in the schoolhouse door.”

I don’t stand in the school house door. I’m inside the schoolhouse, working with kids.

I find it highly amusing that you aren’t making these same assertions about Jonathan Sackler, Stephen Mandel, Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones, and any of the other Greenwich billionaires, who live in the same community I do (actually, I live in what real estate broker Chris Fountain has decided isn’t “real Greenwich” because too many blue collar workers live here) and send their children to private schools. Oh…but maybe that’s because they fund you?

posted by: Parent and educator | July 14, 2014  6:33pm

James Boswell tells us that Samuel Johnson said, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel; well, ABC, I think your version of patriotism is the charter school—and, to chastise anyone who promotes public schools—especially if they don’t live in an urban district. Connecticut has a broken schools funding mechanism.  I believe in strong, local public schools (and integration, but that is truly a contentious issue).  I live in a distressed urban district, and my children attend the local public schools.  I would never send them to a charter school.  I just do not believe in privatization, and I *know* that charter schools are gaming the system.  In addition, like author Sarah Darer Littman, I abhor the high-stakes-testing slant of contemporary education.  This is ruining schools throughout Connecticut, depriving children of the joys and challenges of literature and language study; of sciences, etc.  Job training is not the goal of a comprehensive education, and never should be, because it is so much more limited than a comprehensive education, which sets one on a path of discovery, ready for so many different futures—vocational, business-oriented, humanistic, educational… Job training is such a debasement.  I have been reading Sarah Darer-Littman’s columns for months now, and I can say without reservation that she supports the best education for all children—something charter school “operators” don’t.  Darer-Littman belongs to a long line of thinkers, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who are utterly committed to equal access to education for all children, who believe in the potential of all children.

posted by: Christine Stuart | July 14, 2014  10:41pm

Christine Stuart

I’m sorry ABC but your comment is nonsense. Just because someone lives in a certain town means they want to exclude minorities from getting an education. It’s stuff like this that make me want to shut off the comment section.

posted by: Linda12 | July 14, 2014  10:59pm

ABC=A better CT=ConnCan=ConnAd=you know the rest.  We’ve already been conned by the so called “reformers” and they’ve lost all credibility except among their own kind.

posted by: Pro-Public Education | July 15, 2014  12:11am

ABC, I reside in Bridgeport and I highly doubt that you do. For the record, all 4 charter schools that are located in Bridgeport underserve children that qualify for free/reduced lunch by up to 23% when compared to our true public schools. So much for providing great schools for the neediest students.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 15, 2014  7:51am

ABC - I don’t know who you are, or your personal circumstances or your ethnic background. But I find it really astonishing that you are making these wild assumptions and characterizations about me while knowing nothing about me, other than my skin color and where I live. There are words for that: racism and bigotry.  How do you know that I only teach AP students? WRONG. And have not EARNED my success? As a result of this column, the charter lobby is now claiming that the awards my books have won were “bought” by my publisher, which only goes to prove the kind of corruption and dirty tricks that I wrote about in this column.  I will no longer respond to people who continue to make irrational claims based on no evidence. Finis.

posted by: CTtransplant | July 15, 2014  9:51am

Excellent piece Sarah.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 16, 2014  1:07am


ABC, FYI: The same political proponents of charter schools have just cut remediation for those 5th grade reader/writers out of the community college system and have sent them back to those same “drop out factories” you refer to, or more often to local organizations that have been legally payola-ed from the subsidies that these students represent in return for their political support for education reform. At the end of the day, this is all a money game that sucks resources out of the same urban schools that were hard up in the first place. Education reformers don’t care about the students; they care about statistics; they care about agendas, especially the agenda of getting money that was going toward public education into their pet programs, which all too often appears to end up in the pockets of private individuals. You seem to be writing from a fantasy perspective that believes the less fiscal oversight, the better. Charter schools are a fallback position for people who got frustrated in the fight for a voucher system, which in retrospect is starting to look a lot more sound than the reality of the education reform that you champion.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 16, 2014  7:29am

“Sarah lives in Greenwich and believes in EXCLUDING low income children of color from enjoying the same education options that her children have.  I am merely making a logic argument.
  Have I gotten the facts wrong somehow?”

Yes - because you have provided no evidence for this assertion. Just repeating the same idea over and over doesn’t make it true. You have to provide facts to back it up. Clearly your own education was lacking if you don’t understand this concept.

Have I stepped over the line in some way?  If so, I apologize for stumbling beyond your clear boundaries of impropriety.  (Btw - It’s an interesting photo of the chimpanzees that you’ve included in the body of this article.  To which group of people are you referring to so respectfully?)

Interesting “apology” - “I’m ‘sorry’ but you’re a racist!”  Also, a sign that we have reached Peak Internet Outrage, and that you are reaching to new levels of ridiculousness in your ‘arguments’ because you have no actual facts to deal with.

The chimpanzee picture represents the well known idea of “Speak no Evil, See no Evil, Hear no Evil.” You will note that it is purposely placed in the piece directly after the line: “Although both Rep. Fleischmann and his education co-chair, Sen Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, are now feigning outrage over the charter organization’s lack of respect for the state that feeds them, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what has been happening right next door in the state of New York.”

It’s clear to anyone who isn’t looking for reasons for fake outrage that it refers to Fleischmann, Stillman, the State Board of Education, the Governor and the State Commissioner of Education, who have been handing out taxpayer dollars without proper due diligence. The majority of those people are Caucasian.

Like I said in a previous post - there are words for people who make wild assumptions about others solely on where they live and their skin color: “bigot” and “racist.” ABC, you are Example A, B, and C.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 16, 2014  11:24am

I want policy based on verifiable research, and the research on charter schools and vouchers shows that overall, charters don’t outperform public schools - when they are evaluated on an apples to apples basis. So kick out politicians who are enabling corruption and not funding schools as they are supposed to. Stop wasting money on pointless testing that benefits corporations, not children. Reopen school libraries and make sure each school has a media specialist, because the research on that is more than clear. Put the aides back in the classrooms. Not let people Paul Vallas give no-bid contracts for IEP software to his corporate cronies - and then the city has to bid on new software. That’s just a start. I could go on, but I know I am wasting my time.

posted by: Parent and educator | July 16, 2014  6:54pm

ABC, I won’t even address the Emerson/Waldon Pond mix-up.
It is necessary that we agree on the terms of engagement.  Of course a thinker of Emerson’s stature truly believed that all children, regardless of income, should have access to the highest, most exalted standards of education—that is why he praised publicly funded universal education.  But he is not responsible for the travesty of using local property-taxes as the major source for school funding.  He, and I, and Sarah Darer-Littman, would all be and are outraged at the high levels of childhood (and adult) poverty in the United States—but it’s not public schools that have caused this, and it won’t be corporate charter schools that fix it.
It’s hard to argue with someone whose ideology precludes an objective review of the facts. But I wish you the best in reading Emerson—he truly is superior to any ed-reform white paper or Bill Gates-bankrolled report. Take some time to read it.  I wish our legislators would.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | July 17, 2014  4:01am

ABC - so THAT’S your justification for giving taxpayer money to fraudulent, unethical charter school operators without proper due diligence? Okay then. Gotcha. See where you stand. And we’ve only just uncovered the tip of the CT Charter School Scandal iceberg. There is more to come.

Two more things, before I end my conversation with you, which I am doing because I’m tired of trying to have a logical conversation with an illogical person who makes wild, unfounded accusations, especially when they are too cowardly to put their real name on their comments.

You keep referring to “drop out factories.” Have you ever actually looked at the cohort attrition rate for your amazing charter schools? The ones that make grandiose claims about sending 100% of their seniors to college (looking at you, Steve Perry and Dacia Toll) They aren’t so special either. And that’s when they are already serving a significantly lower percentage of ELL and special needs students than the surrounding district schools that you so despise - and then don’t provide the special needs students they are serving with the services they are supposed to be providing (see lawsuits).

posted by: Parent and educator | July 17, 2014  10:05am

Oops, misspelled Thoreau’s beloved pond—should be Walden.  Auto-correcting, here—from a sometime pedant!

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